Department of Natural Resources
Michigan Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Kyle Publiski was the first emergency responder on the scene Saturday afternoon, assisting a 30-year-old woman whose kayak overturned while paddling the Pere Marquette River in Lake County, near the east border of Mason County. The woman, showing signs of hypothermia, had been stuck in the cold water for roughly 45 minutes.
Receiving the initial dispatch call Saturday at 2:27 p.m., Publiski was told that a stranded kayaker had overturned in the river and stated that she could not swim. The woman was kayaking with a friend, who was able to make it to shore.
“With the river’s water level being very high, swift currents and cold water temperatures made the situation more difficult,” said Publiski.
When Publiski arrived, he saw the woman clinging to a tree that had fallen into the river.
“She kept saying that she couldn’t swim and that she didn’t have a life jacket,” Publiski said. “She also said that she could not feel her hands or feet.”
Publiski created a lifeline by tossing a throw bag to the woman and instructing her to wrap the rope under her arms and around her torso.
A throw bag is a rescue device consisting of a bag with a rope inside of it. The rope extends out of the bag while one person holds onto one end of the rope and is pulled by a person from the opposite side.
Once the woman was able to grab the rope, Publiski threw her a life jacket, but she was able to get only one arm through it. During this time, U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement Officer Doug Beringer and Lake County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Brad Nixon and Deputy Craig Mayo arrived.
As the officers used the rope to pull the woman toward shore, she released her grip on the tree she had been holding onto. When the woman let go of the tree, the strong current pulled her downstream and she became entangled on a different log. Physically exhausted from being in the cold water for almost 45 minutes, the woman did not have the strength to climb over the log to allow the officers to continue pulling her toward them.
CO Publiski jumped in the fast-flowing water and was able to get the woman unstuck from the log and safely move her to shore.
“From the time that I arrived at the river to the time that we were able to get the woman safely to shore, it was about six to seven minutes total,” Publiski said.
Observing that the woman displayed extreme signs of hypothermia and was unable to walk, the first responders put the woman in an emergency Stokes basket and carried her about a quarter-mile, up a 5-foot embankment, where a Life EMS Ambulance was waiting. The woman was transported to Ludington Hospital to be treated for hypothermia.
“Conservation Officer Kyle Publiski made a quick decision to enter the river to help this woman, risking his own life to save her,” said Chief Gary Hagler, DNR Law Enforcement Division. “Conservation officers receive extensive water training and are prepared to respond to situations like this. I’m glad that Publiski and the other law enforcement agencies were able to help in what could have been a tragic situation.”
Publiski, a Michigan DNR conservation officer since 2004, patrols Mason County.
Lake County Sheriff’s Department, Carr Fire Department, Life EMS Ambulance and U.S. Forest Service personnel assisted in the effort.
The DNR issued a press release on Wednesday about high water levels, urging boaters and water enthusiasts to use caution when on the water.
Michigan conservation officers are fully commissioned state peace officers who provide natural resources protection, ensure recreational safety and protect citizens by providing general law enforcement duties and lifesaving operations in the communities they serve. Learn more at Michigan.gov/ConservationOfficers.